'Nearly all shark's fin sold here from sustainable source'

Association says it uses regulated fisheries; conservation groups want better monitoring

Almost all shark's fin sold here is from sustainable sources, said the Marine and Land Products Association yesterday, following the release of a study on Thursday that found Singapore to be a top trader of the controversial delicacy.

The group represents companies in the fishing and marine industry, including about 10 involved in the shark's fin trade. This makes up about 70 per cent of the shark's fin industry here, said Mr Yio Jin Xian, a representative of the association.

He wrote in an e-mail to The Straits Times yesterday: "We constantly strive to provide sustainable products from countries with well-documented federal regulations on shark fishing... We are continuously seeking sustainable solutions in the seafood industry."

A report released on Thursday ranked Singapore as the third-largest importer (after Hong Kong and Malaysia) and exporter (after Thailand and Hong Kong) of shark's fin out of the 68 countries and territories studied. It imported 14,134 tonnes and exported 11,535 tonnes between 2005 and 2013.

The report by wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic and nature group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) looked at figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

There are 30 shark and ray species threatened with extinction listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites); permits are needed for trade in these species. However, the study noted that Singapore did not have species-specific product trade codes for all 30, so trade in the other species might be illegal and unsustainable, but goes unnoticed.

Mr Yio said the association "strictly follows Cites regulations and international laws on endangered species". All shark's fin sold by members - which he estimates at about 90 per cent of what is sold here - is from sustainable sources, he added. The fins are from sharks processed in First World countries with fisheries that are regulated and have restrictions on the amount fished each year, he said.

"Those countries require the sharks to be fully used, so typically, the fins are shipped to Asian markets, and the rest is used in Western countries for dishes like fish and chips. Those fins are not processed on boats by fishermen who cut them off and throw the dead sharks back in the sea. It is the whole shark that's used, not the fins alone."

Said WWF-Singapore spokesman Janissa Ng: "With a quarter of the shark species in the world facing extinction, defining what is sustainable goes beyond quotas and sales practices."

There are no shark fisheries that have been independently certified sustainable; nor are there systems that can track shark products back to the point of harvest, she said.

"The Singapore authorities need to take measures that lead to greater transparency in the global shark trade, such as more robust monitoring of species-specific trade volumes, so there is a clearer picture of whether the trade of certain species is legal and sustainable," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Nearly all shark's fin sold here from sustainable source'. Subscribe